Mid-Winter Pillar of Fire Sunrise
This Sunday morning, January 24, was dawning grey and still, with about a foot of snow on the ground when I walked to the bay window with my first cup of tea in hand and was greeted by one of the most unusual sunrises I’ve ever seen. It lasted less than two minutes, and I think that it was caused by the sunrise being focused through a hole in the clouds just behind the ridge of hills that make up the Allegheny escarpment two miles south of Lake Erie. This is the so called “Chautauqua Ridge” which is notorious on the evening weather shows for its Lake Effect snow accumulations.
Fifty year ago today, it was likely also a grey day in Massachusetts where I was an 18 year-old headed off to the required Sunday Chapel with about 800 other boys. Dark suits, white shirts, and neat ties required, and as a dorm proctor I would have been responsible for making sure that my various tenth-grade charges made it to church on time and then, as a student deacon, for helping to pass the collection plates during the offertory. Hopefully, the sermon and the service lifted our sights above our teenage worries.
Always an early-rising farm boy, I’ve seen a lot of sunrises since; on at least five continents and three oceans, and it's a joy to see this, one of the most uplifting sunrises right out the back bay window of what was, originally, my grandfather’s house to which we have returned in our “retirement”.
Over the years, I have experienced far beyond my just allotment of good fortunes and adventures, yet I am thankful this morning that in returning to one of the places of my beginning, that in this Sunday sunrise over vineyards, I should be granted such an inspiring glimpse of a more fundamental perspective.
MULLED OR SPICED WINES: Red Ipocras and White Ipocras
The Germans call it "Gluhwein" - literally, wine that makes you glow - and it is a staple of their Christmas markets to this day. The Swedes call it Glogg and the Italians borrow some French to call it "Vin Brule’". Ipocras is sweet and generously flavored with several of the spices popular in old England. These include ginger, cinnamon, and clove, and they leave a wonderfully warm and lingering aftertaste. In fact, the recipe we use is an adaptation of an Elizabethan formula.
A BRIEF HISTORY
Warm, spiced wines have a long tradition going back to the early Greeks who believed that the combination of warmth, alcohol, and spices had excellent medicinal properties to combat the infirmities of the cold winter season. They called the mixture “hippocras” after Hippocrates, the father of medicine. The medieval French called it Ypocras, which the English often changed to Ipocras. Chaucer mentions it in his first work: The Book of Duchess in 1370, a dirge he dedicated to Blanche, the Duchess of Somerset who died of the plague at age 26.
In 16th century England, both white and red Ipocras, had become a drink of the highest nobility. At a time when both sugar and spices were rare and precious, Ipocras was reserved for the use of royalty at the most precious ceremonial occasions. Indeed, Ipocras was the libation presented by the Lord Mayor of London to Queen Elizabeth I at her coronation.
Johnson Estate's founder, Fred Johnson, was inspired to produce Ipocras to celebrate the commissioning of the Sea Lion, an authentic replica of a 16th century merchant ship which was built nearby on Chatauqua Lake.
Serve it warm in a mug or cut it 50/50 with hot apple cider and serve it in a beer stein with a stick of cinnamon. Some traditions fortify it with apple or grape brandy for extra warmth, but that sometimes can be too much of a good thing. And here are some food pairing suggestions including Triple Ginger Cookies!
TRY IT NOW
By way of introduction, we are offering you a 20% discount on our Red Ipocras or White Ipocras
this month to encourage you to try it! Here's a "one-click to try them both!
ABOUT TORPEDO RED
This label was designed by the Johnson’s son, Spencer, a US Navy active duty EOD officer, in honor of his grandfather, the winery’s founder, Frederick Spencer Johnson.
The dragon carrying a torpedo was the insignia of the WWII Navy Squadron Torpedo Three which flew off the Yorktown from 1943-1945.
The silhouette of the airplane is that of a TBM Avenger, designed by Grumman Aircraft and built by General Motors. to carry a 2,000 pound aerial torpedo. On November 11, 1944*, then Lt. (junior grade) Frederick S. Johnson, age 23, single-handedly torpedoed and sank a Japanese destroyer for which he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by Admiral John S. McCain (the recent Senator’s grandfather).
The wine is a blend of Chancellor and Pinot Noir both grown here on the farm. It is a smooth but almost-dry, full-bodied wine that is ready to drink now but should also continue improving with age for at least another five years.
This is a limited, special edition label we are now offering every November in honor of all veterans and active duty military.
* Coincidentally, November 11th is Armistice Day, now called Veterans’ Day.
PERSPECTIVE: 100 years ago - in 1920 - at the Johnson Farm (aka Sunnyslope)
Circa 1954, Owner Fred Johnson Jr. with grandfather, Frederick William Johnson.
So here we are, one hundred years later, struggling to navigate the latest pandemic, looking forward to a great harvest, but uncertain about political, economic, and environmental futures. But we have been here before. We will persevere, as will you. As farmers, we know that there will always be challenges ahead, both man-made and God-given. But we are always optimists; determined optimists, dedicated to always leaving this place and our customers and community a little better and a little happier than they were before.
PLEASE NOTE, 3/12/2020:
Johnson Estate is providing "No Contact Curbside Pick-Up", please call 10am-6pm to pre-order/pay with credit card and arrange delivery of wines to your car - we are happy to do this. We will ask to see your driver's license through your car window.
The winery is open from 10am-6pm daily and while we have suspended tastings and tours, you may shop for your wines for Take-Out bottle purchases.
The text from our recent email to our online customers:
Spring and summer are coming and discerning wine consumers like you often plan to visit wineries like ours......but then comes this Corona Virus. So, in the spirit of the moment, and to try to help "flatten the curve", we would like to offer you the following options for 750/375mL bottles (except where noted).
GOOD NEIGHBORS PROGRAM:
Free Shipping to Ohio, NY and PA for minimum purchases of 6 bottles or more. Also applies to six bottles of Proprietor's Red and House Red (1.5mL).
Promotion Code: GOODNEIGHBOR
FREE SHIPPING, EAST OF THE MISSISSIPPI
To customers in states east of the Mississippi with minimum purchase of 12 bottles.
Promotion Code: EOMFREE
50% OFF SHIPPING, WEST OF THE MISSISSIPPI
To customers in states west of the Mississippi with minimum purchase of 12 bottles.
Promotion Code: 50SHIPWEST
ONLINE OR CALL:
Please visit our website anytime or give us a call (1-800-Drink-NY or 1-800-374-6569) between 10AM and 5:30PM Eastern Time, 7 days a week. Our tasting room team will be happy to speak with you. You are welcome to share this offer with your friends and family.
We look forward to seeing you at the winery - hopefully it can be sooner rather than later.
Frederick & Jennifer Johnson
AND NOW, THE FINE PRINT:
PICK-UP OPTIONS AT THE WINERY:
In the spirit of social distancing, we are happy to accept online or phone "pre-orders" for those who live nearby. Just let us know that you'd prefer for us to bring the wines to your car.
What is Veraison?
Taken from the French, veraison is the change of color of grapes. It is a signal that the plant and its berries are putting their energies into ripening the berries instead of berry
The unripe grapes, all a bright green color, begin to turn either pale yellow or dark blue/purple in the case of “red” wine grapes. This is a photograph of Johnson Estate's Pinot Noir grapes which have started but not completed veraison. At this stage, the vines have begun to transport energy stores to the grapes and they increase in size as sugar levels increase.
Birds Looking for Early Ripening Grapes
In western New York and Pennsylvania, where 30,000 acres of vineyards are found along Lake Erie, the end of September is known for the aroma of ripening grapes and the commencement of the region's harvest of Concords. When this begins to happen, it is a signal that the grapes are becoming sweeter. The majority of the region's vineyards are Concord grapes which tend to ripen later than some wine varieties. As a result, the early-ripening wine varieties, like Johnson Estate's Maréchal Foch and Pinot Noir need to be protected from birds whose choices are fewer at the beginning of the season.
At Johnson Estate, these two early-ripening grape varieties are protected from hungry birds through the use of ballons, kevlar streamers, and periodic cannon shots. In addition, there is a recording of a hawk attacking a starling and all of these efforts help to diminish the birds' interest in these first-ripening grapes.
More Information may be found here:
Fred Johnson, Owner
Bang! Starting Gun.
"Bud Break" announces the start of a new growing season in the vineyards - a new vintage begins.
Will there be enough heat-light units to finish the race at harvest with gold medal quality grapes for the year's wine? Or will we come up short, with grapes insufficiently ripe to make the best wines?
In 2017, "bud break" - officially when half of the buds on the grape vine are showing at least the edge of half of a leaf - was about two weeks early. This year, we're about five days late than the May 4th average. Last year was ideal for producing excellent vintages; not too cool, not too wet; long mild fall; just right. Five days later than the average bud break in 2018 is no great handicap, but the vineyards will need a little extras heat during the summer (but not over 90° please)
and extra sunny days to arrive at harvest in "medal form" this year.
Dear Mother Nature,
Thanks for getting me up so early Thursday morning. The stars were sparkling over the vineyards as I tromped through knee-deep snow hoping for an early harvest.
Each winter, we watch the long-range weather forecasts to see when you will bless us with several "cold-enough" days (that means 12-15 degrees!) to crystallize the juice in the grapes we net for ice wine. Earlier this week, it began to look promising, and we'd sent out the "Ice Wine Harvest Alert" to all our hardy volunteers.
So, on Thursday, well before dawn, I stopped in the midst of the snowy Chambourcin vineyard to check on the state of the grapes set aside for ice wine. When I popped a grape berry into my mouth, it was slushy.....but not yet crunchy. A no go......not cold enough. Then I had to text the volunteers: "stay in bed!".
So, back to watching your weather. In the meantime, and for all of the regular folk too, here's a link to an article on ice wines in the most recent issue of Edible Western New York. Publisher, Stephanie Schuckers Burdo, was with us last December and took that photo of me hauling a crate full of Chambourcin; then she put the camera down and helped with the harvest!
Fred Johnson, A hopeful vignernon
Last week, another harvest was completed; today the first flakes of snow swirl, but melt as they touch the golden leaves. It is time for giving thanks. Thanks to our creator and shepherd who has given us the most glorious fall in many, many years. Not only that, but a growing season that has delivered the cleanest, ripest, most luscious bunches of grapes; bunch upon bunch, ton upon ton. It should be a memorable vintage.
We owe abundant thanks too, for the loyalty of our customers, the steady, unstintingly cheerful work of our teammates in the vineyards, cellar, and wine-shop. We are grateful, as well, for the community that surrounds and supports us, and we wish all good cheer.
As is our custom after harvest, we are again pleased to offer free shipping to customers nearby and far away. We know that many of the people who visit us during the season have roots in our community, but either now live at some distance or have family or friends that do. It is with this broad, western New York 'diaspora' in mind that we reach out in gratitude with this humble offer of wine transport - free as Santa’s sleigh, if not so magical!
As the first bands of snow march off Lake Erie, I am warmed by the memories of summer just past: the vineyard walks with cheerful, interested and interesting visitors, the golden sunsets out over Lake Erie, the planting of our newest Pinot vineyard block, the breathless unloading of our newest wine tanks and barrels, and the raising of a new barn among the vineyards. I eagerly look forward to tasting the wines of 2017. I forecast that they will be excellent.
Jennifer and I wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving among family and friends. We thank you for your interest and support and may your holiday season be joyful. May you return to visit us, preferably in person if you can, or on-line in the meantime!
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